Porsche 911 slips past BMW M5
BMW M5 is roomier but Porsche has kept its classic design fresh and technologically up to date.
It can never be a total surprise when a Porsche 911 wins any competitive comparison test.
But I would have guessed — and I voted accordingly, for this was one of my categories — that the BMW M5 would squeak the win, if for no other reason that it is roomier (and that counts in the AJAC scoring system).
How the M5 finished third is even tougher to explain.
It was very close, but democracy has spoken.
Best prestige-performance car over $75K:
Porsche 911 Carrera S
Price (base/as tested): $110,000/$145,610
The winner at 665 points. So how do you keep a classic design going for 50 years yet still keep it fresh and technologically up to date? I don’t know that anyone has ever pulled it off, except for the Porsche 911.
The 2013 model has an all-new lighter body that maintains the classic 911 profile but with a fresh modern look. There’s more interior room, thanks to the longer wheelbase. Normally this compromises nimbleness but the new 911 handles better than ever.
It is more powerful. Traditional flat-six now displaces 3.8 litres and produces 400 horsepower. Hence, it is faster yet gets better fuel economy and generates fewer emissions. Space limitations prevent me from describing how they did it. It’s remarkable enough that they did.
Mercedes-Benz SL 550
Price (base/as tested): $123,900/$131,400
Second at 657 points. Every carmaker going back at least as far as Henry Ford has known that weight is the enemy of just about everything in a car.
But consumer demand for more features and regulatory demands for ever more stringent crash protection have made it difficult for engineers to keep from adding weight, let alone shedding it.
Which makes the 100-plus kilogram weight loss in the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL 550 all the more impressive, achieved largely with an all-aluminum body structure.
It gives new meaning to the ‘L’ in the car’s traditional ‘SL’ nomenclature — , German for “light” (as in weight, not illumination). Less weight also helps for the ‘S’ part of the name too — , as in “fast.”
But the main “schnell” component is the twin-turbo V8 engine, pumping 429 horsepower through a seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle-shifter override to the rear wheels.
A beautifully crafted fully-featured interior and the trick disappearing roof add to the appeal.
The SL has always been about comfortable, luxurious cruising for two. For that purpose it has few equals.
Price (base/as tested): $ 101,500/$115,500
Third at 655 points. In the M5, you can drag-race a Corvette, chase a Porsche down a winding road or take three friends to the opera — it is equally happy in all three details.
I said that about the original M5 way back in the 1980s. It remains true.
The new M5 now runs a twin-turbo V8, producing 560 horsepower.
Fast? I guess.
The seven-speed dual clutch gearbox lets you play Sebastien Vettel or lets you relax while it shifts by itself.
The brakes bring things back to a halt should you demand it.
The cabin is roomy and beautifully finished — that’s where the friends and opera thing comes in.
Hard to think that a $101,000 car can be a bargain — this one comes close.
Chevrolet Corvette 427
Price (base/as tested): $94,540/$110,165
Fourth at 610 points. This particular version of the Corvette stuffs the 505-horse 7.0-litre V8 from the Z06 into the convertible body, making this the most powerful Corvette droptop ever.
That a Corvette is fast is never in doubt. What surprises a lot of people is how well it rides with the Magnetic Ride Control system (invented by General Motors, and if it’s good enough for Ferrari, it’s good enough for you).
It also combines this terrific ride with equally terrific handling. You will give up long before the car does.
Thanks to ultra-tall gearing in the six-speed manual transmission, it gets remarkable fuel consumption on the highway too.
Assuming you can keep your right foot off the firewall. As if …
The free-flow exhaust system (part of an option package included in our test car) has a valve which opens when you really stick that right foot in it. You’ll be driving around all day looking for underpasses, rock cuts, anything that will reflect this joyful noise back to your waiting ears.
Beethoven or Mozart never wrote anything that sounds any better than this.
There are still people who dismiss the Corvette as being somehow downscale. They are people who have never driven one of the new ones.